Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Don Carlo presented by Martha Cardona Theater

No one should be surprised to know I am a very big supporter of opera performed by young professionals.  There is a wide range bubbling below the surface of what we see in the mainstream classical music press, ranging in experience level from true beginners who deserve a chance to be heard to those with significant performing experience in regional opera companies. On Tuesday, May 27, I was privileged to witness a concert featuring some of these highly experienced young professionals in a concert of Don Carlo excerpts presented by the Martha Cardona Theater at the Opera America Center. (The concert was billed as Don Carlo in concert, which was not accurate.)

Because I wasn't feeling well, I stayed home and watched the concert on their live streaming feed, which I believe is an Opera America offering, an option when one rents the hall. It was very much like being there, while able to also tweet and text message more freely with others witnessing the concert in the same manner.

First off were teasers for upcoming concerts.  Michele Trovato, whom I'm praised in these pages often, gave us a lovely, affecting rendition of Signore ascolto from Mr. Puccini's Turandot. As usual, one wants to hear more of Ms. Trovato, and will, when Mr. Cardona presents Turandot on June 17.  We also heard Zhanna Alkhazova in the Letter Scene from Eugene Onegin, which Mr. Cardona intends to present June 28.  One almost wished for a third teaser.

The singing of the Don Carlo principals was all as one expected--on a very high professional level, but needing a little further polish to assure the singers a place among the stars, and also not as sure-footed as if they had all been off book.

Barihunk Lee Poulis
Fort Worth Opera's
Pearl Fishers
(Yes, there were fully
clothed pictures,
but why?)
I liked Elisabeth Stevens as Elisabetta. A little more polish and involvement would have made her performance spectacular, but she was quite fine given the concert setting.  Vocally, I'd compare her to some very good sopranos with bigger names.

Domenick Rodriguez as Don Carlo. This seems exactly the right sort of engagement for Mr. Rodriguez. From his bio, one assumes he has recently made the switch from lighter tenor repertoire to heavier rep like Don Carlo, so pacing and vocal weight issues that seemed evident in his first scene seemed to have been better negotiated in later scenes. As I've said before of other singers, I'd like to hear his fifth Don Carlo and his tenth, to see how they compare to this valiant offering.

Krysty Swann sang Eboli with great assurance and somewhat dark and heavy tone. Matthew Curran, whom I have also praised in these pages before, provided just the right depth of tone and manner for Filippo II.   Lee Poulis was very strong as Rodrigo.  He really was among the finest singers in the cast.

The Martha Cardona Theater was created in 2009 with a mission of bringing opera to a wider audience. I encourage people to see and hear opera at this level as often as they can. In addition to hearing hit-parade operas (which I never tire of, unlike certain other opera writers), you never know when you might hear a rising singer destined for the major opera houses of the world.

Saturday, May 24, 2014

Further to the question of opera singers and weight

This is a reply I made to a Facebook commenter on my link to the previous post.  (Why people choose to comment on Facebook rather than here--and not even to the Taminophile page, but rather to my personal page--is beyond me.)
...the real emphasis I meant to convey, is that Hollywood unibody standards are bad for Hollywood, let alone for an art form where one needs a strong and robust body to perform well and survive. It's true that healthy, active, beautiful people come in many shapes and sizes. Hollywood standards of beauty--which don't seem to recognize body diversity--can't be the primary decision point when casting opera singers. I did not mean to suggest, as you seem to have interpreted, that morbid obesity--or obesity of any sort--should be disregarded in all cases when casting. 

There is a completely valid argument that in today's increasingly competitive world, one should seek to eliminate any possible reason for being excluded or disqualified. I know that abs and bulges sell tickets. I just think it's ridiculous to expect opera singers to look like underwear models when their bodies are not what they are selling. Let's not forget how often pundits publicly query whether male singers with great bodies were cast for their bodies or their operatic talents. 

You repeat ad nauseam that opera is theater. But that does not mean opera is a Hollywood movie or a Victoria's Secret print ad.

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

In which your reporter must weigh in on the subject, so to speak

I was busy living my life and apparently completely missed all the press reports from London of a morbidly obese woman trying to portray Octavian on stage! How offensive! How disgusting! It's a scandal! It's an outrage!

This is the young woman in question:

Both photos by Kristin Speed, courtesy

Um, not sure I see the problem.

Her crime?  She didn't look like this*:

Here is Ms. Erraught in actual performance:

Non piu mesta, with Jean-Yves Thibaudet at the piano.  2010?  (Ignore everything before 2:20.)

I think that performance was better than this, from the Richard Tucker gala 2012, although she's still pretty damn good:

From Mr. Bellini's I capuleti e i montecchi, Bayerische Stadtsoper, 2012.

I won't go on at great length, because many commentators before me have written about this travesty. In reality, this young woman is beautiful to behold and a very good singer. I believe she should be one of those considered worthy to assume one day the laurels the blessed Joyce Di Donato wears. But this article ("In 2014, The Classical World Still Can't Stop Fat-Shaming Women") quotes some pretty nasty reviews that don't seem to have noticed this woman's vocal talent but focused on the fact she's not as lanky as a marathon runner. (I say that because I know at least one lyric mezzo who is a marathon runner.  And pretty damn lanky!) 

In reality, the reviewers quoted in the article I link are all said to be middle-aged (or older) white men. In reality, there are many viewpoints about female beauty, and they change over time. Marilyn Monroe and Jayne Russell would not have made it easily in today's entertainment world because they actually had curves, but I dare say there aren't many straight men of my acquaintance who would be turned off by either. But today, both would have been advised to lose weight and seek the coat hanger-like appearance of the model I feature above before even attempting a show business career. I will admit I'm particularly sensitive to this issue because I once tried to market myself as a 350‑lb. Tamino. It didn't work. (In truth, my weight was not the only reason.) But I know I'm not the only one who sees the injustice here.

Dear Ryan McKinney said it best when I interviewed him: "I think opera is particularly good at compelling people toward empathy through music, and that is something we should protect by showcasing singers of all shapes, sizes, colors." Opera is not a Hollywood movie. Opera should feature people who are more real and less plastic than those in Hollywood movies. Yes, there are very fit singers--I myself am a big fan of the web site Barihunks. But who in his right mind really believes only thin people fall in love, and that people only fall in love with people the world would say are in the same "league"? I can't claim my experience is universal, but I've been every size you can imagine, and at every stage, I've had guys in every "league" level pursuing me.

Operas are not written about functional people. What in the world would make you think they're written about Hollywood-beautiful people?

*I use that photo because, for one thing, it's a little black dress (if you still don't know that reference, rethink why you read my blog), and for another, the photo and the ad campaign caused a stir because women thought this model was too thin.

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Ein schönes war....

I spent a good part of last weekend helping an operatic colleague evaluate auditions for a small opera company in NYC.  I love doing this. But since this company stated the intention to produce Mr. Strauss's Ariadne auf Naxos next season, one heard many renditions of Ariadne's arias. Only one or two of Zerbinetta, and no Harlequin at all.  (Don't get me started on what happens when you announce any mention of Mr. Floyd's Susannah!)  Since I can't get Ariadne out of my head, I'm inflicting sharing this with you.

Jessye Norman, 1988 or so, Metropolitan Opera telecast under James Levine:

My beloved Debs, in an undated video from YouTube:

Leonie Rysanek, Wiener Philharmoniker, Erich Leinsdorf, cond., 1958:

Hilde Zadek, Edinburgh International Festival, Thomas Beecham, cond., 1950:

Elisabeth Schwarzkopf, cond. Herbert von Karajan,  1955:

Anna Tomowa-Sintow, Gewandhausorchester Leipzig, cond. Kurt Masur, 1974:

Renee Fleming, undated Naxos recordingv: